Holy Mother of Nerd! I’ve just spent the last three hours trying to upload today’s blog entry. For some reason, it kept uploading as one giant paragraph. Well, after multiple transfers between multiple laptops, numerous copies and pastings, seemingly endless saves and re-saves, and 27 consecutive drafts (wordpress keeps track, bless their hearts), I finally had to switch over to html. Not exactly my forte, but it seems to have done the job.
So – tada! Here it is! A terrific Q&A with author Adam-Troy Castro in which he touches on, among other things, his work, his love of Ellery Queen, and how he enlisted Electro to bump off his wife. Read on for the details.
And, hey, let’s get those questions in for actor Peter Kelamis, Stargate: Universe’s Adam Brody. The last thing we want is for him to relax on his time off.
Over to Adam…
Thanks all for this group-read. I hope I can answer your questions to your satisfaction!
I warn people that my answers include major spoilers for EMISSARIES FROM THE DEAD and some significant hints to events in the next two Andrea Cort novels. Andrea Cort II, THE THIRD CLAW OF GOD, was published in March of this year, and I just completed work on the book after that, THE WAR OF THE MARIONETTES (which is, alas, at this point, only scheduled for publication in German – and yeah, that’s irritating to me, but we’re working on it.) Further answers imbedded after the questions.
Ship’s Cook writes, “I’d like to know a little about the author’s past, namely how long he has been a science fiction fan, what led him to become a writer, his early influences, and who or what he enjoys reading today. Thank you.”
ATC: Thank you, Ship’s Cook.
I was never a fan of the sort who attended conventions – but for a few exceptions my teens, I didn’t get into that world until I became a pro who could be on programming — but I’ve been reading sf since childhood, discovering Asimov, Clarke, Ellison, Silverberg, Harrison, and Sheckley by age 12. I became a huge admirer of Ellison, in particular.
Simultaneously I discovered the joy of mysteries and became a big reader of, among others, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and my favorite, Ellery Queen – who is rarely read today, but still exists in the form of the magazine that bears his name. Ellery Queen was the pseudonym of two cousins who wrote mysteries about a mystery novelist named Ellery Queen, who solved mysteries and then wrote about Ellery Queen solving them. This was meta-fiction before anybody talked about meta-fiction. The tales tended to end with Ellery gathering the suspects together in a room and telling them his detailed reasoning. There’s a lot of Ellery in Andrea, even if he was a nicer guy. The “drawing-room mystery,” as that subgenre is called, has been growing increasingly rare for decades, and has been taken over by more realistic stories of police doing what police do, and one of the best practitioners of that kind of story was Ed McBain. I only read about seventy of his books. Only. There’s a lot of him in Andrea’s interrogation scenes, as well.
It was many years before I found out that my favorite Ellery Queen mysteries were actually ghostwritten by science fiction writers Theodore Sturgeon, Avram Davidson, and Fredric Brown. And that McBain had written some science fiction under the name Richard Marsten. Imagine that.
What led me want to become a writer? Just always did. Couldn’t imagine wanting to do anything else. Wrote short stories at eight, my first novel (which no one will ever, ever see) at eighteen, my second (which I also daily thank God wasn’t published – and I’m serious, since it got as far as attracting an agent, despite some elements that mortify me today) at twenty-five. I sold my first short story to DRAGON magazine in 1989, started selling short fiction regularly within the next couple of years after that. I wrote a Spider-Man story, “The Stalking of John Doe,” for an anthology; that one received praise from folks who called it one of the ten best Spider-Man stories ever written, and got me the assignment to write the character at novel length. I did four of those, including a trilogy pitting the wall-crawler against the Sinister Six, thus proving to myself that I could do the novel trick.
Background: born in New York, graduated Cornell in 1983, worked in advertising for a short time and in the job from hell (seriously, don’t get me started) for a long long time after that. Moved to Florida in 1995, met my future wife very shortly after that, gradually became her friend. It took us three years of regular get-togethers to realize that we were dating. Became a full-time writer in 2003. Z is for Zombie, set for publication in April, is something like my eighteenth book – seventeenth, eighteenth, somewhere in there.
What I read now? Lots and lots and lots. I love the savage FBI profiler novels of Cody McFadyen, whose protagonist Smoky Barrett is even more messed up than Andrea. (Check out THE FACE OF DEATH). I love the horror novels of Brian Keene. I like Stephen King. I enjoy John Shirley and Tim Dorsey and Joe Hill and Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Jack Ketchum and Christopher Moore and Marcus Sakey. I read Robert Silverberg and Dennis Lehane and Donald Westlake (RIP), and Ed McBain (ditto) and Gary Jennings (ditto ditto). Could just go on listing names, but that gets boring after a while, unless the question gets more specific.
Mercury187 writes, “Assuming that, as a writer of SF, you’re also a fan of
the genre, what would you say are your three top underrated science fiction
ATC: Thank you, Mercury187.
Among the many authors sadly neglected by readers despite whatever respect they may get from their fellow writers include Barry N. Malzberg, one of the finest and darkest prose stylists this field has ever produced; his novels Galaxies and Herovit’s World are both science fiction about science fiction, and both are brilliant; the short stories of Ray Vukcevich, who has as quirky and off-center an imagination as any I have ever encountered; and Walter Tevis, whose Mockingbird is one of the all time great twilight-of-humanity stories. I would also deeply recommend that folks who haven’t do so track down one of the various collections of short stories by Charles Beaumont, who died far too young after a brilliant career that included scripting a number of stories for the original The Twilight Zone.
Anne Teldy writes: “For Mr. Castro: Thank you, Sir, for an enjoyable read and for taking time to join us here.
1. Yes, I read the Acknowledgments even though I know I’m not in them. Yours were done properly without giving anything away. Have you ever considered including a red herring just to tease your readers? ( Thanks to Frieda Calienti for teaching me all I know about zero-grav brain surgery. Not all she nows, of course, so any mistakes are mine.)
2. Some authors title their chapters; others don’t. Why did you choose to do so?”
ATC: I’ve always liked novels that named chapters. The trick is of course to come up with chapter names that intrigue without giving away too much. In certain novels, it wouldn’t work at all, and those are the ones that should get mere numbers. It’s a stylistic thing, one easier to feel than to explain.
The acknowledgments for the second novel go on at some length about the immense help of a fictional friend who moved out of his house and lived in the garage so I could sleep next to his wife for that period. So: yeah.
Starship Trooper writes: “1) I read that elements of this world appeared in your previous published short stories. Which elements exactly? Andrea? The indentured system? One One One? Do all of your stories take place within the same established setting?
2) You write female characters very well. What sort of advice would you offer another male writer who would like to capture the female voice.
3) Someone is going to ask this question so it might as well be may. This was a murder mystery. Did you know whodunit when you sat down to write Emissaries or was it something you discovered in the process?”
ATC: Thank you, Starship Trooper.
1) As I’ve worked in a number of genres, and have done more horror than science fiction, only a few of my 80+ published stories have any bearing to Andrea’s world, which I call “The AIsource Infection” universe. They would include the novella “Unseen Demons,” which introduced Andrea; the novellas “The Funeral March of the Marionettes” and “The Tangled Strings of the Marionettes,” which are stories of the Dip Corps; a few others, including this year’s “Among the Tchi,” which isn’t about Andrea but features an alien race she finds particularly irksome. There are also a couple of stories connected to Andrea’s world but taking place in the near future, instead of her far-future one: the best known of these is “Sunday Night Yams At Minnie and Earl’s.” (These appeared in the various sf magazines; my website has a bibliography, which details just which stories fit into Andrea’s world and which don’t. Here’s the URL.)
I call special attention to a series of strangely-titled stories about a pair of space rogues called Vossoff and Nimmitz; they take in Andrea’s general neighborhood, but they’re very very silly, and can be considered part of the same universe only in the same sense that Humphrey Bogart and the Marx Brothers both had adventures (of a very different kind) in Casablanca. My bibliography warns that nobody reading those should expect them to match up with Andrea’s stories perfectly: by design, there’s no consistency, not even internally. (Even if a key character from those shows up in time to become a major player in The Third Claw of God.
2) How to write women? Write a person. Then add gender. Everything else is nuance. This may strike you as glib, but it’s the best way I can describe my approach, except to say that I never claimed to be especially good at understanding ladies in real life and am downright astonished that I get so much praise for doing it well in print.
3) Of course I knew whodunnit. I may make up certain other things as I go along – for instance, for a long time I thought one of the Porrinyards would be killed in action during the aerial combat scene, and I was never actually sure how the climax would play out until I got there. But you can’t write a murder mystery, planting clues and so on, revealing what you need to reveal and hiding what you need to hide, unless you know the main secret, and a lot of the subsidiary secrets, from page one. Once you know that, writing the book after that becomes all about throwing complications on top of complications so your detective keeps getting distracted by irrelevancies and doesn’t see a direct path to the solution. Another way of putting it, I guess, is that if you don’t know what’s going on from page one, then anybody could be the guilty party, and then the identity of guilty party doesn’t matter. The identity of the guilty party needs to matter. Otherwise, you’re not writing a mystery. You’re playing CLUE.
TimC writes: “Great book! I’m looking forward to the author Q&A. Here are some questions for him:
1. As people have already pointed out, the world-building in your book is phenomenal. You’ve given a lot of detail to many facets of your world while others have been referred to but not really pursued. The Diplomatic Corps that Andrea works for, for instance. What else can you tell us about DIPS and will we learn more about it in your next book.
2. I hear you started off writing short fiction and that this is your first novel (and a great one, might I add). I’d like to know what made you decide to write a novel. Was it always your intent and were short stories something you were cutting your teeth on or was it a desire that evolved after writing so much short fiction? Did you always think you had a book in you?
3. I found Emissaires from the Dead a very unique book. Would you say you were influenced by any other SF works or works outside of the SF realm?
4. When’s the follow-up being released?”
ATC: Thank you, Tim C.
The Dip Corps is a rather ineffectual but corrupt bureaucracy that has used Andrea in ways she doesn’t even know about. See The Third Claw of God for one of those ways.
This isn’t quite my first novel. As already stated, I did four licensed Spider-Man novels before this, and I like to consider the Vossoff and Nimmitz collection a paste-up novel. Why do I want to write novels? Novels are where it’s at, professionally; a great short story is a thing of beauty, but it’s the rare author who can make a career of them. Did I always think I had a book in me? Well, it did take me a long time to learn the novel-writing trick…but I’m glad that I eventually got there.
SF: I love Asimov, Silverberg, and Ellison. Mysteries: I love Donald Westlake, and Ed McBain. There is a lot of Asimov and a lot of Sherlock Holmes in Andrea.
Already answered, but I’ll say it again: last March.
KellkyK writes: “Some questions for Adam.
1. What kind of research did you do for Emissaries of the Dead? Or are you naturally scifi-inclined and the story developed wholly from your imagination?
2. What are your thoughts on the state of science fiction today, literary SF and other? Bold new directions or rut?
3. Andrea Cort is a nicely rounded character. What made you decide to go with a female protagonist and were there any early concerns about the decision? Also, if they were casting the Emissaries from the Dead movie right now, who would you cast as Andrea?
ATC: Thank you, KellyK.
1) Didn’t do much research for this particular book; just mucked about the gray matter.
2) SF is as versatile a genre as any that exist, and the one thing I note is that, as we head into the future, the space-faring sf that defined my youth seems to be getting rarer in favor of dystopic or utopian near-future scenarios. I believe that interstellar travel fiction – in print, at least – may be reduced to a narrow sub-genre, in a field that is otherwise heading in other directions.
3) One trick about female characters that practitioners of the mystery and horror genres also know is that, even if we know intellectually that ladies can be tougher and smarter and more resourceful than many men, we still tend to worry about them more. It seems that even the least sexist reader alive cannot help feel the threat more intimately when a woman character (even one as tough as nails as Andrea) is the target. Write a woman in jeopardy and female readers identify with her; male readers feel protective. This is a sexist reflex on the part of the human animal that just happens to make writing women characters an advantage in thriller situations. Also, I think people forgive things of women characters that they would never forgive of men. It would be hard to depict a man who acted like Andrea and not have him come off as an uncomplicated bastard who should just die. But people feel affection for Andrea, despite herself.
Who would I cast as Andrea? Once upon a time, Jennifer Jason Leigh. Anne Parillaud would have been good, at the height of her fame. My wife votes for Angelina Jolie.
Future-Rama writes: “Questions for Adam Troy Castro:
1) Will you be exploring the dissident faction of the AISource in your next book?
2) I’d also like to know if you’re next book will explore more of Andrea Cort’s entry into the Diplomatic Corps. Given her infamous background, I’d have thought she’d be the last one to join or be recruited by anything called Diplomatic. But maybe there’s an irony there that is hinted at in EftD, that the Diplomatic Corps is not quite as “diplomatic” as we would assume.
3) Among the aspects I loved about this book were the sentient alien races like the Brachiators and the Bocai. The Brachiators were an engineered race and I’m assuming native only to One One One, but the Bocai were an established alien race who, forgive me if I misread, were seen as second-class citizens by many humans. I’d really love to know more about the Bocai and their struggles and was wondering if we would learn more about them, and not just their involvement in the colony from Andrea’s youth, in coming books. If not, what can you tell us about them?
Thanks for taking my questions and I can’t wait for the second book to come out. Oh, and one more question. When is it coming out? *Taps foot impatiently”
ATC: Thank you, Future-Rama.
1) The so-called Unseen Demons are a major part of Andrea’s back story and will remain such, but their importance to any particular Andrea story will vary. They are not, for instance, very important in The Third Claw of God, making but token appearance while she deals with more human concerns. Her relationship with them and with the AIsource is in for serious upheaval in book 3, War of the Marionettes. If I get to do more Andrea novels after that – I hope so – then the AIsource and the Unseen Demons will fade into the background for a while as I explore more of her universe.
2) Andrea does work for the Dip Corps, but she’s not a “Diplomat” except by association. Her particular talent is not diplomacy, but prosecution, and her bailiwick is handling those cases where human laws run up against alien ones. She’s not the one you want on your side if you want to make friends of an alien race, but she will nail the criminals within the Corps. Think of her, also, as an Internal Affairs cop, tracking corrupt people inside the system, like Gibb. And yeah, her advancement within her career is a testament to her talent. The Corps saw a potentially useful asset and took advantage of it. Of course, they also had another secret purpose in mind for her. See The Third Claw of God. (Sorry.)
3) A Bocaian academic known as the Khaajiir is also very important to The Third Claw of God. Andrea’s monstrous reputation among the Bocaians is key to that volume. Someday, Andrea will return to Bocai, but that story is not written yet. Key thing to know about the Bocaians: they’re a fairly unambitious civilization content to exist in peace on their own planet, without much say in interspecies diplomacy. They just don’t care all that much. But they also hold grudges.
Re the next book, all together now: last March.
Artdogspot writes: “For Adam-Troy Castro: I enjoyed this story, especially the investigation / suspense elements set in such an unsettling environment. I also really liked the character you created in Andrea Cort.
1. What led you to write a mystery and why did you decide to make the main character a woman?
2. You have created some playful names of worlds and alien races (i.e., Bursteenies). Where did the name, OneOneOne, come from
3. There were some amusing – and not so amusing characters (Gibb) and commentary on management and administrators. Is this based on your own personal experience? (In our household “management” is affectionately referred to as “manglement”.)
4. The AISource is portrayed as fairly omnipotent; God-like in some ways. They even encourage the notion of “free will” in humans and other sentient life forms. How could humans and other living beings co-exist with such a superior race without feeling as if they may be somehow dominated or manipulated by them?
5. It’s revealed that the AIsource is essentially conducting behavioral science experiments on organic sentient beings. They have cleverly diverted attention from this activity. Since we know they can actually create some actual life forms (Brachiators), it seems that it would be easy for them to clone or create human beings. So, why don’t they create their own human test populations to study? How would anyone know that these populations were created for actual study?
6. It is also revealed that they are also studying specific human beings because they exhibit behaviors out of the norm which interest them. What do they expect to learn from these human behaviors that they can’t possibly emulate themselves?
7. At the end of the story, it is reveled that the AISource is tired from living basically eternal lives. How have they actually come to be able to feel this way?
8. Andrea’s childhood was a nightmare. She grew up believing she was a monster as a result of her actions during the worldwide massacre on her planet when she was eight years-old. Actually, she was a surviving victim of this massacre yet she was treated like a criminal in her formative years and basically sold to the “Company Store”. It seemed a bit extreme to me though it was a plausible explanation for her anti-social behavior. Obviously, Santiago’s background was much more extreme but can you sum up why Andrea turned out to be fairly functional while Santiago basically became psychopathic
9. I enjoyed Andrea’s character more when she was an independent, tough outsider. What was the rationale behind your decision to make her open up to her own and others’ feelings towards the end of the book? Was this primarily attributable to AISource meddling or evolution of her character?”
ATC: Wow, Artdogspot, you really piled on the questions. Let’s see what I can do.
1) The detective has an excuse to walk around his/her society, asking questions of rich, poor, powerful and weak alike. Thus a good detective story allows the detective to wander his/her world from top to bottom, and teach us as much about the workings of that world as about the mystery itself. See Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Robert Towne’s Jake Gittes (from CHINATOWN), who teach us about Los Angeles…Dennis Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro (GONE BABY GONE among others), who teach us about Boston…and Harry Kellerman’s Rabbi Small, who teaches us about Judaism. Mysteries are therefore perfect for sf, as the detective’s doings give us the grand tour of the world without ever forcing some character to say, “As you know, Bob…” Isaac Asimov helped to demonstrate this with The Caves of Steel, about a far-future murder investigation that was also a grand tour of a post-nuclear Earth.
2) One One One was nothing more than an indication that the AIsource use binary notation for some purposes. I didn’t think they had enough poetry in them to give the station a more evocative name. No particular significance except, I discovered to my delight, considerable annoyance value.
3) I did work for a while in Corporate America, and got to see that incompetence is impenetrable when it’s in a position of power. You know the TV show THE OFFICE? All versions? I promise you, from personal experience, it doesn’t exaggerate. I had a boss who made Michael Scott look normal. Andrea’s antagonistic attitude toward the very people who employ her is necessary on a storytelling level, since she’s in greater danger if we can’t count on them to back her up.
4) I suppose it’s a little like being a small country in our world, trying to get along while hoping that the superpowers don’t screw things up for everybody. Andrea’s terrible discovery in Emissaries is that the AIsource have even more influence on human concerns than most people believe.
5) Who says they haven’t? Who’s to say that the entirety of human history is not one of their experiments?
6) The AIsource are trying to induce unusual thought models. Creatures like the Brachiators are the medium.
7) That may well be grist for a future story.
8) That’s a poser we face in our world, every day: why is it that one brutally abused child becomes a serial killer, and another becomes an essentially good person with some bad memories? In fact, why is it that so many people raised in happy homes grow up to be selfish bastards, while others actually put the lessons of their childhoods into practice? The specific answer in the case of Andrea and the fictional Christina may be in part that Andrea had a few years of a loving family before the massacre ended her childhood, and Christina did not. Or it may be that Andrea was made of more resilient stuff. I honestly don’t know because that all ties in to the origin of evil, and that’s just one of them eternal questions that nobody’s ever been able to answer. One thing, though: the massacre on Bocai was not “worldwide”; it was one small island community.
9) The AIsource manipulated her feelings quite a bit, but I like to believe that Andrea had reached a turning point anyway: either stop torturing herself, and find some way to live, or accept that she couldn’t and pack it in (an option that included suicide, which she had already tried). Which segues nicely to the next comment.
Thornyrose writes: “Managed to finish Emissaries from the dead this morning. I agree with just about every point you mentioned. This was a very pleasant read indeed, grabbing my attention from the first chapter’s “I’m a monster”, to the vivid descriptions of the physical layout of One One One. The complex universe and social structure of this book’s universe was laid out in a way to make it seem plausible. I was torn throughout the book between slowing down my reading pace to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and trying to read faster to discover the next revelation.
The sci fi mystery novel approach worked very well in this book I believe. Despite the exotic setting, despite the political machinations driving the investigation, Andrea Cort comes across as an old style hard bitten P.I.
The only part of the book that threw me slightly was the changes in Andrea’s character by the end of the novel. As you already described, she’s a loner who’s been emotionally scarred by childhood tragedy and the resultant abnormal upbringing following that tragedy. Yet by the end of the novel she’s made some changes in behavior and thought that seem a bit rushed. I didn’t actually dislike this development, just found it a less probable than most of the other events in the book. Still, a solid read that I’ve very glad I took the time to sit down with.”
ATC: Thank you, Thornyrose.
The believability of Andrea’s character changes at the end of Emissaries may or may not be a flaw in my storytelling – that’s up to readers to decide — but I’ll tell you my take on it. As far as I’m concerned, Andrea isn’t as deeply changed then as she believes she is.
She’s just in love for the first time, far later in life than most of us are, and not used to the feeling.
We all get a little goofy under those endorphins. We tend to think, “I’m happier than I’ve ever been! I’m a brand new person!”
It ain’t necessarily true. Life doesn’t have happy endings. It has happy turning points, but that’s not the same thing.
By the next book Andrea’s been with the Porrinyards for a year, and we can see that she was overly optimistic about how lasting and how extensive those changes were. She’s substantially improved in that she’s a little less tightly wound than she used to be, and significantly more social. But beyond that she’s still pretty much the same woman: angry, unpleasant, distrustful of friendly overtures, not the most fun to have around at a party. This leads to problems…
Airelle writes, “I was suprised in all the control of AI that they could not ferret out the Heckler, maybe I missed the point where it explained that. Who was Christina Santiago-Peterson that you said was not satisfied with the way you killed her off the first time,? I look forward to reading the next Andrea Cort story in The Third Claw of God. thanks for taking time to answer questions and thanks Joe for asking.”
ATC: Thank you, Airelle.
The AIsource knew exactly what was going on throughout Emissaries; it just wasn’t as important to them as putting Andrea into play.
The real Christina Santiago-Peterson is a local friend who I had last killed off in my Spider-Man novel, Secret of the Sinister Six. There’s a chapter of that book where the titular villains attack an industrial facility and kill off a lot of innocent bystanders, all of whom have the names of my local friends. The Vulture flies the fictional Christina, in that book a security guard, a thousand feet straight up and then callously drops her. The real Christina was upset that I didn’t provide her with as violent and as graphic a death as I’d provided my future wife, the then Judi Goodman, in the same book. (Judi got thoroughly, and graphically, fried by Electro.) Christina complained so much, for so long – you have no idea – that I promised to kill her again, in some more imaginative manner. You’ll note that I cheated her. Not only does she apparently die the same way, from a fall, but she also turns out to not be dead. Serves her right.
Thanks to Joseph, again, for this opportunity! I enjoyed virtually “meeting” you all. Good luck to him in the Stargate universe, and good luck to everybody else in…well, this one. Have a good one!